Kale has been the darling of the food world for a decade.
Virtually no recipe has been spared from the addition of kale. Add kale to macaroni and cheese? Sure, why not. Kale fritters, kale salads, chopped kale, cooked kale, raw kale, kale smoothies, even kale ice cream and chocolate cake. The list goes on.
Munch on a bag of kale chips in public and you might as well be giving the secret handshake to this club of over-enthusiastic foodies. They will come up and talk to you.
But as hard as it is for the kaleys to accept, some people just don’t like kale. But as quiet as it is kept, there are other greens.
Swiss chard, for instance. Chard is also nutritious and versatile and the flavor is milder so that it can appeal to folks who just can’t throw themselves onto the kale bandwagon. It’s low in calories and high in anti-oxidants and vitamins. And the stems are pretty. Pretty is always good when trying to persuade children to eat something that’s good for them.
The stems can be red, yellow or white and there really isn’t any taste difference between them but the red stems can bleed pink onto the things they are cooked with, so bear that in mind.
Rainbow chard, with all the colors isn’t a thing. Clever marketers simply combined different colored varieties into the same bunch and gave it a new name. But it is pretty.
Chard is usually thought to be a winter vegetable like its more popular cousin kale but it actually will grow all summer long. It’s a biennial and won’t bolt and go to seed the year it’s planted.
When chard leaves are very young and tender, the stems don’t need any special treatment. Just use the leaves as you would spinach. But as the leaves mature and get bigger, you’ll want to cut the stems out of the leaves along with the heavier ribs but don’t throw them away or compost them. They have lots of uses. If you’re cooking the chard, dice the stems up finely and start cooking them first. When they are starting to get tender, add the leaves. The color contrast adds interest.
There are a couple of other recipes below for chard stems but don’t overlook the pickles. A jarful of multi-colored chard stems standing upright in pickling liquid is a thing of beauty and a delicious accompaniment to grilled foods.
Kale has had its day in the sun. Give chard a chance.
Swiss Chard Salad with Lemon, Parmesan and Breadcrumbs
1 bunch Swiss chard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
sea salt to taste
crushed red pepper flakes, optional
3/4 cups grated Parmesan
Wash and dry the chard and remove the stems from the leaves. (Save stems for another use.) Stack a few of the leaves on top of each other, roll them like a cigar and cut the cigar into thin (1/8-inch) ribbons. Repeat until all the leaves are shredded. Put the leaves into a large salad bowl. Warm 1/4 cup olive oil in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until they are crisp and golden brown (about 5 minutes). Be careful not to burn them. Stir in the garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper flakes, and let them toast for another minute, then remove from the heat. Zest the lemon into the bowl of chard. Juice the lemon into a small mixing bowl. Add a few generous pinches of salt. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the Parmesan and about 2/3 of the lemon dressing to the bowl. Toss until nicely coated. Taste and add more dressing if you like. Toss in the toasted breadcrumbs and serve immediately.
Chard stem Sriracha Fridge Pickles
Swiss chard stems
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 cups sugar
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp. Sriracha
1/2 tsp. celery seeds
Make a mixture of vinegar and sugar, then stir in onions, Sriracha, and celery seeds. Pour it all over the chard stems, using 3 cups liquid for every 1 1/2 cups stems. Refrigerate for a few days.
Chard Stem Gratin
Stems from about 2 bunches of Swiss chard, trimmed of discolored ends
1 tbsp. salt
1 clove garlic, halved
About 1 tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 cup panko or fresh white bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and chard stems. Boil until stems are tender to the bite, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Rub a medium-size shallow baking dish with the cut sides of the garlic clove halves. Butter the dish and then put in the chard stems. In a sealable plastic bag, mix bread crumbs, parmesan, and 1 tbsp. butter. Sprinkle mixture on stems. Cook until top is browned and crisp, about 15 minutes. Serve hot or warm.
How To Make Vegetable Stock
Vegetable stock is a great way to use up chard stems if you don’t want to do anything else with them. Keep a big sealable bag in your freezer where you can throw vegetable odds and ends: vegetables that have wilted beyond saving, the green parts from leeks, trimmings from carrots, and so on. Once this bag gets full, it’s time to make broth. Two ways to add more flavor to your broth are to roast the vegetables beforehand or to let them sweat (start to soften and release their liquids) for a few minutes over the heat before adding the water.
1 to 2 onions
2 to 3 carrots
3 to 4 celery stalks
4 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 small bunch parsley
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
Optional Extras: leeks (especially the green parts), fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, mushroom stems, parsnips, chard stems
Onions, carrots, and celery give stock a great base flavor, and you can round these out with any of the other vegetables listed above. You can also make stock using any amount of vegetables that you happen to have on-hand, but it’s good to have a roughly equal portion of each so the resulting stock will have a balanced flavor. It’s nice to add a few herbs to the stock, but keep them fairly light. Parsley does really well, especially the stems leftover from picking off the tops. Bay leaf adds a pungent, earthy flavor and thyme gives a nice woody note. Wash any visible dirt off the vegetables and give them a rough chop. You don’t even need to peel them first unless you really want to. (Some people even advocate leaving on the onion skins.) Throw all the vegetables in a pot big enough to hold them plus a few extra inches of water. Cover the vegetables with enough water that you can easily stir them in the pot. Less water means that your stock will be more concentrated; more water makes a lighter-flavored stock. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring it to just under a boil. Once you start to see some bubbling around the edges of the pot and a few wisps of steam on the surface, turn the heat down to medium-low. One hour is generally enough time to infuse the water with vegetable goodness. If you need to take it off the heat a little early or don’t get to it until a little later, it will be fine. Give it a stir every now and again to circulate the vegetables. Take the pot off the stove and remove all the vegetables with a slotted spoon. Set your strainer over a big bowl and line it with cheese cloth or coffee filters. Pour the stock through. Divide the stock into storage containers, cool completely, and then freeze.
Swiss Chard Fritters
14 ounces Swiss chard, stems removed
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped dill
1 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large eggs
3 ounces crumbled feta cheese (1/2 cup)
Olive oil or grapeseed oil for frying
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add greens and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from pot and drain well, patting leaves dry with a paper or kitchen towel. Place chard in food processor with herbs, nutmeg, sugar, salt, pepper, flour, garlic and eggs. Pulse until well blended. Fold in feta by hand. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, spoon in 1 heaping tablespoon of mixture for each fritter (you should be able to fit three fritters per batch). Stick to cooking three at a time. These fritters can be a little tricky to flip, and the key is to make sure that you have space to flip but also to make sure the fritters are golden and crisp before flipping. Press down gently on fritter to flatten. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Add another tablespoon oil to pan and repeat. Serve warm, with lemon wedges (optional).
Swiss Chard and Zucchini Enchiladas
12 yellow corn tortillas
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
1 jalapeño, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
12 ounces Enchilada Sauce
In a large fry pan saute the onions, jalapeño, zucchini, and Swiss chard in a little canola oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft. Let cool a bit. In a medium fry pan, heat 1/3 – 1/2 a cup of canola oil. Fry each tortilla for about 5 seconds on each side till just soft. Place on a paper towel and soak up the extra grease. Pour a little enchilada sauce in a small bowl. Working in an assembly line, dip each tortilla in the sauce, just enough to coat. Place them in a large baking dish and stuff with the vegetable mixture and a sprinkle of cheese. Roll them up and top with the remaining cheese and sauce. Bake at 400°F. for 25 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before eating.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.